Behold, if the river is turbulent he is not frightened

    The sheer length of his titles often seemed to defeat the curious, of which in truth there never were that many, especially outside his realm which is something different from a country, for the latter changed its shape and bearing while the former (here: an ideal state of mind) remained true to itself, just like Karel Vachek. His realm is Czech culture and history, and their place among the cultures and histories of Europe. His country of birth was the ČSSR which he left when during Normalisation it became too normal to harass, persecute or sequester those with a different Normal on their mind, and to which he returned upon finding out that the rest of the world was alien to his realm – and also, because the Normalisation Normal had changed enough for uneasy comfort and security even if that meant making money as a driver and not an artist. The country that nurtured his main period of film production (despite some active reservations of funding entities…) is the Czech Republic, whose sometimes comical and sometimes tragical attempts at finding an identity that squares different with unchanged, Vachek reported, documented, commented on and reflected upon like no other filmmaker local or foreign ever could let alone dared.

    It says a lot about the world not only of cinema that this adventure was widely ignored. When Vachek returned to filmmaking for real and good with New Hyperion or Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood (Nový Hyperion aneb Volnost, rovnost, bratrství; 1992), Part One of his give-or-take 16h adventure Tetralogy The Small Capitalist (Tetralogie Malý kapitalista; 1992-2002), the international movie culture mainstream just turned its interest away from the cinematographies of Central and Eastern Europe to focus on countries like Iran and the People Republic of China, which now got scrutinised and chastised the same way the GDR, ČSSR, USSR etc. had gotten scrutinised and chastised before. This is all very much about claims of cultural superiority – which Vachek often implicitly and sometimes even explicitly ridiculed apropos the Czech Republic’s attempts at playing along and blending in. One could even go so far to say that Vachek’s aesthetic of opposites at play and the importance of the fringes to the centre was a threat to all that which defines this culture of hubris. While Moravian Hellas (Moravská Hellas; 1963) and Elective Affinities (Spřízněni volbou; 1968) are on the surface mighty fine examples of direct cinema, an essayistic edge is already noticeable – come New Hyperion or Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood (Nový Hyperion aneb Volnost, rovnost, bratrství; 1992) this edge becomes the core, with direct cinema being now but one element at play with various others. From New Hyperion on, Vachek strove relentlessly for a balance of extremes which essentially meant combining fly-on-the-wall-, shot-from-the-hip-material with theatrically staged scenes, excursions on mushrooms with hard looks at the politics of the day, FAMU classroom discussions with performance-like monologues by celebrities and nobodies alike, and whatever else might fit in here or there, help elucidate this opaque-seeming point and obfuscate that oh so obvious-sounding line of thought – call it: action collages, pop-up Palais idéaux…! In all that, Vachek is never hectoring or self-righteous, but invariably cheekily self-assured, curious, educated and above all playful – yes: playful, the most dangerous attitude an artist can have these dour days. Thus, he was something contemporary culture knows ever less how to deal with: A liberal bourgeois intellectual whose firm convictions about individual liberties and state responsibilities allows for a freedom of thought that can explore even seemingly dangerous ideas with ease. Authoritarianism has no dominion over citizens like him.

    This article first appeared in dok.revue, the only Czech magazine about documentary films.

    Featured Image: Karel Vachek at the end of the 1960´s. The photo is a part of the book called Vachek which is supposed to be published this year in Czech. Photo: Karel Vachek´s archive.

    Thank you for reading. You have now read 16349 reviews and articles (beside industry news), so could we please ask you to consider a subscription? For 9 euro, you will support us, get access to all our online and future printed magazines – and get your own profile page (director, producer, festival …) to connected articles. Also remember you can follow us on Facebook or with our newsletter.

    Industry news

    Nordisk Panorama 2021: The complete winnersOf 62 nominated Nordic short and documentary films, the jury members and audiences of the 32nd #Nordisk Panorama# have...
    IDFA announces first 2021 selections from Guest of Honour and Lifetime Achievements RecipientsIDFA has just announced the first films selected for its 34th edition, held between 17 - 28 November on...
    Nordisk Panorama welcomes Polish Docs as guest country delegationFor the second time since 1994, #Poland has been welcomed to the Nordisk Panorama Forum. The #Polish Docs# delegation...
    ART: You Can't Show My Face (dir: Knutte Wester)Rejected by society on its government controlled streets, anonymous rappers seek the sounds of Tehran for both production and inspiration.
    ISLAN: Seyran Ateş: Sex, Revolution and Islam (dir: Nefise Özkal Lorentzen)Female imam Seyran Ateş believes Islam needs a sexual revolution, resulting in Fatwas, bullets, death threats, and police protection.
    9/11: NYC EPICENTERS 9/11➔2021½ (dir: Spike Lee)Weaving together the stories, memories, and insights of those who were eyewitnesses to New York’s greatest challenges, Spike Lee's limited series is a rich tapestry of New York City in the 21st century.
    MEMORY: 8:15 (dir: J.R. Heffelfinger)Weaving audio and video recordings, archival images, and re-enactments, an innovative documentary give a first-person account of the Hiroshima bombing.
    Feminine mystique: Rewriting the female narrative in Terra Femme and SavaThis year’s 20th #DokuFest offered over 200 films from all around the world across its 19 sections. These sections...
    CONFLICT: Babi Yar. Context (dir: Sergei Loznitsa)Reconstructing and visualising the historical context of the Babi Yar tragedy, where 33,771 Jews were massacred during Ukraine's German occupation.
    - Advertisement -

    You might also likeRELATED
    Recommended to you